Holi Festival is a spring festival celebrated as a festival of colors. A Hindu religious festival which has also become popular among the people of other communities. Holi festival is celebrated in India irrespective of religion.
It is observed in India and Nepal. Also observed by the minority Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well in countries with large Indian diaspora populations following Hinduism, such as Suriname, Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mauritius, and Fiji etc.
Holi Festival Of Colors
Holi Festival is also known as Phagwah (Assamese) Festival of Colors, or Dol jatra (Oriya) in Odisha, and as Dol Jatra (Bengali) or Basantotsav (spring festival) (Bengali) in West Bengal and Assam.
Holi Festival is a particular significance in the Braj region, Mathura, vrindavan, Nandgaon, and Barsana. (Uttar Pradesh) which become tourist destinations during the season of Holi Festival.
As per the Hindu calendar (Bikram Era and Shalivahana Era), Holi Festival is celebrated on the Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon), which comes in March in the Gregorian Calendar.
Significance of Holi Festival
The word “Holi” originated from “Holika” sister of Hiranyakashipu (a demon). The Holi Festival is celebrated according to a story of the old Hindu tradition, In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu was the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made him impossible to be killed. The boon was the result of his long penance, after which he had asked that he should not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra”. Thus, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He ordered that people should stop worshiping gods and start praising respectfully to him.
Popular Belief of Holi Festival
According to a belief, Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Vishnu, In spite of several warnings and threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Vishnu, He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar for him. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants but he remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, venomous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill son failed.
Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, who could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika was burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.
In Mathura, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha and Krishna.
Holi Festival Celebrations
Every year, Hindus celebrate the festival of Holi. The festival has many purposes. It celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating events present in Hinduism. During this event, participants hold a bonfire, throw coloured powder at each other, and celebrate wildly.
Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colours.
The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheli, Dhulandi or Dhuiendi, is celebrated by people throwing scented powder and perfume at each other. Bonfires are lit on the eve of the festival, also known as Kacy Dahan (burning of Kacy or little Holi, after which Kacy dahan prayers are said and praise is offered. The bonfires are lit in memory of the miraculous escape that young Prahlada accomplished when Demoness Holika. Sister of Hiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a staunch devotee of god Vishnu, escaped unharmed to his devotion.
Holi is celebrated at the end f the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna (February/March). (Phalgun Purnima), which usually falls in the month of March.
In most areas, Holi lasts for two days. Holi brings down the strictness of social norms, which includes gaps between age, gender, status, and caste. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this day. The atmosphere is filled with excitement, fun and joy.
There have been references in Sanskrit texts to similar festivals, like ratnavali where people sprayed coloured waters using bamboo syringes, the origin of the modern Holi festival has been traced to ancient Bengal. It was a Gaudiya Vaishnav festival, in accordance to Vaishnava Tantra. People were going to Krishna temples, apply red colour to the icon and then distribute the red-coloured powder or Abir along with malpura prasad to family and friends. Red signifies passion and Lord Krishna is the king of desires. The ritual that all our desires should be diverted for the attainment of Krishna (the God) and for the wellbeing of society.
In some cultures, the ritual of burning wood and leaves on the full moon night already existed. This ritual was to signify the end of winter and full advent of spring. Old wood and leaves that had fallen were burnt to signify that it was ash. Later, the event of Holika Dahan had been associated with this ritual.
Holi Festival Rituals
Sanskrit texts of festive rituals and dharma shastras, say the morning of holi should be spent joyfully by playing with cows and calves, Holika dahan should be performed late in the evening.
Having constructed a platform hallowed with “Gau Maya” (cow dung) one should arrange a stack of sticks with Agni (fire) and perform Holika Puja with the “Sankalpa” and “Aavaana” of Holika to seek her compassion and show the path of fearlessness and prosperity!
The mantas addressin Holika state that the ten days from Panchami and Purnima are quite propitious. And during these days even stealing of “Indhana” or firewood, ignored to celebrate Holi fire on the Purnima Day when sprinkling of water, smearing on other’s faces with colours and using of indecent language etc., are ignored as gestures merriment all through the day and night. This is how the demoness Holika satisfied.
Next morning, a Chandala (who performs last rituals) is touched before taking a bath and after carrying out nitya karmas, Holika be greeted and take up one’s own duties so that the year ahead will be devoid of diseases,difficulties and mental problems.
Holika Chiti should be lit by a Kshatriya (a warrior) or a King after bath in river followed by Swasti vachan and Donations to learned Brahmins and the poor. In middle or outside the village he should cremate Holika demon’s Chiti made of cow dung cakes and sacrificial firewood.
Later he should extinguish the burnt Chithi (cremated woods and cow dung cakes) with ghee or milk. Then he should donate coconuts and guava fruits. People should circumambulate thrice the burnt chiti of Holika. Later people dance, sing and play instruments in high pitch throughout the night to please and cool Holika. Thus one must spend the night joyfully during holi or Holika.
Holi in Sanskrit Dramas
The earliest textual reference to the celebration of Holi is found in the 7th century Sanskrit drama Ratnavali. Certainly there are perennial rituals related to Holi. The first is smearing of coloured powder on each other and throwing coloured and scented water at each other.
On the first day of his festival, Hindus participate in a public bonfire. Before the event, men prepare for this by collecting extra wood. The fire itself is lit near midnight, as the moon rises. The main custom of Holi is the sprinkling of the coloured powders and water on others. This is why Holi is given the name “Festival of Colours.”
Regional Holi Festival Celebrations
The Holi Festival celebrations has its celebrate origins in Gujarat, particularly with dance, food, music, and coloured powder to offer a spring festival of Navratri, Gujarat’s Hindu festival celebrated in the fall. Falling on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna, Holi is a major Hindu festival and marks the agricultural season of the Rabi crop.
A bonfire is lit in the main squares of the villages and colonies. People gather around it and celebrate the event with singing and dancing. This is symbolic of the victory of good over evil, Tribals of Gujarat celebrate Holi with great enthusiasm.
In Western India, Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets. And young boys try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids. The girls try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids. The girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and cowherd boys to steal butter and “gopis” while trying to stop. The boy who finally manages to break the pot is crowned the Holi King. Afterwards, the men, who are now very colourful men, go out in a large procession to “alert” people of the Krishna’s possible appearance to steal butter from their homes.
In some places, there is a custom in the undivided Hindu families that the women of the families beat their brother-in-law’s with her sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage as they try to drench them with colours, and in turn, the brothers-in-law’s bring sweet to her in the evening.
Barsana is the place to be at that time of Holi where the famous Lath mar Holi is celebrated in the sprawling the Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines become hysterical, sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna.
Holi celebrated at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase men away with sticks. Mals also sing provocative songs in a bid to invite the attention of women. Women then go on offensive and use long staves(lathis) to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.
In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, and in Vrindavan this day is celebrated with special puja and the traditional custom of worshiping Lord Krishna. Here the festival lasts for sixteen days.
In Kanpur Holi lasts seven days with colour and a grand fair called Ganga Mela or the Holi Mela. This was started by freedom fighters who freed Kanpur from British rule after the First Indian War of Independence in 1857 under the leadership of Nana Saheb. Nana Saheb had declared India free from British rule on June 17, 1857 in Kanpur. His declaration lead to a series of fight with Britishers and hundreds of freedom fighters lost their lives. Since then people started this Ganga Mela at various Ghats along the banks of River Ganga in Kanpur. This Ganga Mela which is being celebrated for over 150 years depicts the Ganga-Jamuni Tahzeeb (Tradition) or the Hindu-Muslim Unity in the city.
Holi Festival is celebrated in most parts of India and specially in all big cities. People of all age groups, young or old, men or women, rich or poor celebrate the festival with great enthusiasm. Certain people who use mud, garbage and dangerous chemicals in the place of natural colours. Sometimes they spoil the face or body of the people.
To maintain the spirit of the festival, enjoy and let others enjoy. Do not throw colours on others who do not like or we do not know.
It is a festival of happiness, love and affection.